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Social Media: What the Heck is this Stuff?

Dec 12, 2008

We love social media. It’s a way to have community across many miles, and to connect with customers who we’d never otherwise hear of. ‘Social Media’ might be a new term to you (certainly it was at a time to all of us,) so I’ll explain what I mean.

Wikipedia says,

Social media are primarily Internet- and mobile-based tools for sharing and discussing information among human beings. The term most often refers to activities that integrate technology, telecommunications and social interaction, and the construction of words, pictures, videos and audio.

That’s pretty much it. Social media services let us share information using the internet. Unlike a blog (like this) or email, they are a common place – a website usually – where discussion takes place. Sort of like those Roman forums. (Unsurprisingly, one of the earliest social media services, which is still around, is called a forum.)

Now, most services focus around being able to communicate quickly, and to be able to get a ‘community’ view of everyone you’re connected to. That is, you will be able to see a summary of what your friends have been saying or doing. All services nowadays have privacy settings that allow things you do to be restricted or even private. Many services also double as publishing tools, allowing your updates or posts to be viewable and searchable across the web.

I’ve used a number of these in my day, and they vary greatly in popularity and in features. Some that are around now include Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Bebo, Plaxo, LinkedIn, Identi.ca, Plurk, Hi5!, Mashable, Orkut, Friendster and quite many more. (For a list of popular social networks, this is a good place to look.) Some sites that weren’t social networks became so over time (Flickr, YouTube) and there are even aggregation services (FriendFeed, Ping.fm) that allow you to send or see posts or updates from different social networks in one place.

As for actual daily usage, there aren’t great statistics yet, but there are in almost all cases dedicated users of all of these networks. How do you figure out what network to get on? Usually you get invited by a friend. Because, that’s why you’re on there – to communicate. Services like facebook and orkut offer ‘groups’ which represent common interests among their users, and even more you can create ‘events’ and send invitations through the service. Usually you get updates of your choosing through email, because perhaps you don’t log in all the time.

The thing that is most interesting to us, and even as customers of others, is the ability to express interests. Sometimes you come to a web site and you see a banner ad – maybe it’s for computer servers. But whatever it is, it is rarely something you’re looking for or even interested in. Most of what annoys us about ads – junk mail is all about this – is that it is all about stuff we don’t want or couldn’t care less about. However, with the ability to express interest in things either by writing out a series of interests or by making one’s self a ‘fan’ of different products or businesses or people – it allows advertisers themselves to stop wasting time on people who don’t want their product anyway. And believe me, never seeing another ad for male enhancement (at least until I’m 60) sounds good indeed.

Mostly what’s in it for all of us is connectedness. Plus, for us men out there, something that automatically reminds you when somebody’s birthday is coming up saves us a lot of trouble. (Now if it could only remind us of anniverseries.) I don’t know that they are the center of our political and social life (yet) but they certainly have shown themselves to be anything but a fad.

The only question that remains at the end of the day is, which ones will stand the test of time? Recent news suggests that the social media trend is lasting, but some services are going to either be changing or disappearing for good.

What’s my favorite service? Easy, compadre: it’s Twitter, hands-down. Ron’s a big fan, too.

Have a great holiday, folks.

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